October 20, 2023
Sony Interactive Entertainment
We all wish we could feel like a superhero. Not in the “everyday hero” way, but in a bona fide super-power, save the world sense. There’s a reason why “If you could have one superpower, what would it be?” is a common icebreaker in the workplace, just like how superhero movies are constantly at the top of the box office (for better or worse). It’s an ultimate power fantasy, one that we imagine from when we’re kids, all the way through to adulthood. Video games, of course, are a big way we escape everyday life, and no developer has managed to capture that feeling of being a superhero quite like Insomniac Games. To put it bluntly, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 delivers where it counts, sure to make your Spidey-senses tingle and cements itself as the best superhero game ever.
After the original Marvel’s Spider-Man in 2018 and the short-but-sweet follow-up Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales two years later, this time it’s a team-up for the ages. Peter Parker and Miles Morales are both playable in this bigger, bolder sequel, each with their own unique abilities and storylines; although they do intertwine when the big baddies get even bigger, of course.
Double the Spidey, double the story
Taking place 9 months after the events of Miles Morales, both Spider-Men are struggling with the balance of their superhero destiny and their real-world responsibilities. Parker wants to hold down a stable job, dreaming of a career in science and education but is constantly distracted by protecting the city. The younger Morales is more focused on writing his college application but can’t find the words to explain what makes him special beyond his superpowers. There’s a nice connection between the two leads, as they mentor one another and give each other advice.
Looming large is the threat of several major threats, particularly Kraven the Hunter, who along with his faction of mercenaries (also known as Hunters), are hunting down superpowered beings for their own nefarious means, whether they be heroes or villains. Other notable threats from Spider-Man’s past make appearances, but when a strange black symbiote gets involved around the same time Parker’s best friend Harry Osborn comes back to town, things take a turn.
“…Parker remains witty, funny and charming…”
Without going into too much detail, the inclusion of the iconic Venom is done incredibly well here. The alien symbiote has a major impact on the way things play out, with each of the cast impacted in different ways that add a lot of emotional weight to the narrative. Themes of darkness, revenge, forgiveness and what it means to really be a hero are all present, with most of the side characters also getting their own moments to shine in ways I didn’t expect, which is a nice touch.
While Spider-Man is absolutely known for its web-slinging and swinging across New York City, some of these quieter, character-focused moments break up the faster pace quite nicely, allowing you to really spend time with its supporting players and get to know them a little better. The narrative is delivered through proper cut-scenes, phone calls and other encounters that make the world feel truly alive, and Parker remains witty, funny and charming, making me laugh during several moments when taunting foes or reacting to the environment.
Gettin’ webby with it
Being Spider-Man should feel amazing, and much like its predecessors, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 nails its fluidity in movement. Swinging through the city, between buildings, bouncing from skyscraper to skyscraper remains a visual spectacle, making it even less likely than ever that you’d want to fast travel – although, you can unlock this later, if you really want to, albeit without the cute train animations from the first game.
Adding another layer to traversal is the new Wingsuit, giving you the ability to fly as well as swing from webs. I was initially hesitant on this inclusion; the web-swinging feels so good, why would I want to simply fly instead? Despite the swinging still definitely being my preferred method of Spidey transport, I was grateful to have the Wingsuit, particularly when it comes to getting across the larger map a little bit faster, or when moving between islands. Being able to travel without worrying if there is a building nearby to connect your webs to is quite liberating, and there are various air vents that fling you upwards, and slipstreams (represented by floating rings) you can dive into that speed things up even more. By the time I’d spent several hours in Spider-Man 2, I was regularly shifting from swing to wing, and transitioning between the two feels just as satisfying.
It’s made more impressive by the framerate that is consistently at 60FPS, while still maintaining brilliant visual performance. You can look to the distance and see Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens laid out in front of you, your Spidey-self reflecting off towering buildings and the flow of movement never halted. They’ve even gone as far as to animate the inside of certain buildings, so that when you’re crawling across them you can see civilians playing video games on their couch or having a board meeting.
There’s a rigorous polish to everything Insomniac does which shouldn’t surprise me given their track record, but it bears repeating. Sound design is especially stellar; when you swing close to the street level, you’ll hear cars beeping their horns and engines revving. As you dive through one side of a building and out the other, you’ll hear screams and chaos briefly as you whoosh past. It’s a fantastic representation of New York City as a whole; lots of activity, people going about their lives, with that superhero twist of crimes happening around every corner and secrets to uncover. A world as delightfully curated as this simply begs to be explored; and that’s a beautiful thing, as there is plenty to find.
Something is tingling…
Combat in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 manages to keep up the fast pace, and the variations in abilities you have access to ensures that things stay fresh throughout the runtime. The foundational basics haven’t changed; you’ll punch, kick, dodge and counter, all represented by slick on-screen visual indicators, so you know what enemy attacks are avoidable and which ones need additional strategy. It feels as punchy as ever, chaining together attacks on large groups of enemies like it’s no big deal, with flashy finishing moves adding more pizzazz.
On top of the basics, there’s a pool of special abilities to pull from, which are different for each of the two Spider-Men. Parker initially has access to several trademark Spidey attacks, including the metal spider legs that spring from his back to pummel enemies. Morales is still able to tap into lightning powers, connecting enemies with electric shocks and vicious slams. Eventually, other powers will unlock that are more interesting and effective as the narrative progresses.
There are also gadgets that can be used, like your web shooters to disarm crooks completely, an upshot that sends groups flying up into the sky for a cheeky air combo or even a web grabber that pulls groups from all directions into one central spot for a walloping. With skill trees throughout that can add even more options or increase the effectiveness of your move set, plus suit technology that can improve your base health, damage, focus and traversal, there’s a bit to keep track of, but it does go a long way in making your versions of Parker and Morales more customised.
Sneaky fans will be glad to hear that several missions provide the opportunity for a stealthy approach, as you clear out rooms by dividing and conquering, stringing up criminals in webs as you cleverly distract others. When you’re entering into a space that has enemies prioritising gun-fire and snipers, this tactical approach can really make a difference to your survival, and the simple but fun stealth mechanics allow you to switch up the pace yet again.
Large, epic-feeling set-pieces during the main campaign go a long way to making you feel like a superhero as well, whether it’s battling a gargantuan foe that is towering over the city or being dragged up the side of a building by a lizard while avoiding falling debris. Representing the chaotic over-the-top energy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is no small feat, but Insomniac again manage to create big Hollywood blockbuster moments alongside the meaningful character beats to great effect.
It’s a shame that some of the boss battles don’t allow for quite as much variety. Usually in a three-stage “deplete the health bar” situation, once you’ve figured out the trick to defeating them and getting your shots in, they can drag on a little bit, with their attacks extremely damaging if they land. Even so, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has its fair share of exciting twists that ensure some of the more repetitive fights still have satisfying payoffs.
Eight-legged freak, seven days a week
Even with an emotional story that propels its characters through some dangerous, life-changing moments, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 still comes with a laundry list of open-world “stuff to do”. To its credit, the moment-to-moment gameplay is so pleasing that I didn’t mind spending time on this checklist, and thankfully the majority of the content feels unique.
“…I helped a young gay man ask his boyfriend to homecoming via an elaborate special invitation…”
In one distraction, you’ll have to use a robot spider to crawl through burning buildings to find victims in need of help from firefighters. Another will have you bouncing between portals as a bit of an ode to Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. In one side story, you’ll even get to be a DJ, complete with a rhythm minigame to enjoy. You’ll fly drone bees for science, complete particle puzzles, search for lairs hidden in plain sight and follow enemy drones through the city in high-speed Wingsuit chases. In one of my favourite diversions, I helped a young gay man ask his boyfriend to homecoming via an elaborate special invitation, yet another simple thing that made me feel seen as a gay gamer.
There are a lot of different cool ideas in this open world, which makes some of the more rinse-and-repeat activities feel more tacked on. Several side missions dotted across the map just involve you beating up a bunch of dudes; later, more of these mission types pop up, with different enemies but relatively similar objectives. Collecting spider-bots and taking photos of civilians adds a bit of flavour but doesn’t feel quite as fleshed out as the other distractions. Still, they’re more hit than miss, by a long shot.
Shifting between each of the two Spider-Men is also seamless, with no loading screens; it’s easy to hop from one to another when you come across a mission that is specific to either and given they both do have completely different abilities to muck around with and separate skill trees to fill up, I spent my time pretty much 50-50. That said, Parker’s story and his connection to Venom make him feel like he is still the “main” Spider-Man in this adventure. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Morales and his revenge plotline, it’s just that the main story feels much more interested in the OG Spidey, especially as it reaches its climax.
- Epic, heartfelt story full of twists and turns
- There's still no better feeling than web-swinging through NYC
- Combat is fun and fluid with lots of options
- Open world has some genuinely compelling side-stories
- Visually stunning, with amazingly slick performance throughout
- Some of the distractions are too combat-focused
- Boss battles can become a little repetitive
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is an incredibly strong follow-up that really sets the standard when it comes to superhero games. Its story is heartfelt and delivered by a genuinely likable cast of characters, and when it comes to traversal and combat, you won’t find a slicker experience out there. There’s still simply no better feeling than web-swinging through New York City. With an open world full of fun distractions and a level of polish by Insomniac Games that is unrivalled, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 really will make your senses tingle in the best way possible.